Why I didn’t much care for The Martian. (Even knowing I should care.)
I’m not a movie reviewer. I’m a movie watcher. Sometimes I like stupid obvious movies like Paul Blart- Mall Cop, and The Shooter, and Quigley Down Under, and Dodge Ball, and Galaxy Quest, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Yeah. I do. So sue me.
But my favorite movie of all time is, wait… I have two favorite movies- The Terminator, which is the most perfect science fiction movie EVER MADE, and Die Hard, (I’ll pause here to pay tribute to Alan Rickman, may he rest in peace), which is even better than the book upon which it is based – which is a damn good book – Nothing Lasts Forever. (Loved that book and I’m saying ‘which‘ an awful lot.) Die Hard is by far and away my favorite Christmas movie. Right up there with White Christmas. I’m a sucker for White Christmas. It’s the Danny Kaye/Vera Ellen dance scenes. Damn she’s a great dancer.
But anywhooo, back to The Martian. B.O.R.I.N.G. It wasn’t a movie, it was a survival manual. A superficial treatment of a step by step How To book. How to survive on Mars when you’ve been left for dead, you have no way to contact anyone, and you have no hope.
There’s the rub, the no hope part. If there is one thing… Remember Curly from the Billy Crystal movie, City Slickers? It’s one thing that keeps us watching movies. And it was that one thing The Martian lacked– a dark night of the soul. The protagonist, Mark Watney, never gave in to despair. He was never tempted to call it quits or lie down in the Martian sand or punch a hole in his suit or just plain old kill himself by any means at his disposal.
The movie-maker chose to provide a superficial treatment of the most existential of dilemmas- I am stranded a minimum of 225 million kilometers from earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. No one is coming for me. I am alone in this universe.
There was no suicidal despair like there was in Castaway. There was no Jenny in high heels perched on the ledge of a hotel balcony high above traffic, no Lieutenant Dan filled with bitterness and rage, battling God, like in Forrest Gump. There was no starving Elsa like in Born Free. No desperate and hopeless John Morgan like there was in A Man Called Horse.
Death’s shadow did not fall over Mark Watney as it did the astronauts in Apollo 13, a movie I felt The Martian tried and failed to emulate. (There were so many parallels, too many to mention here.) Because Mark Watney was a genius’ genius. There were no obstacles that could not be surmounted, no failure that could not be overcome. Mark could always find a way to beat the odds. The movie gave us only a single moment when Mark was moved to tears. One, near the end when he was close to rescue. And that was the one moment that resonated with me. (No, it wasn’t the moment when the airlock blew because even then I knew Mark would find a way to fix it.)
Sometimes you lose. I guess that’s what I wanted to see. Sometimes you lose and you must fight and claw your way back from the brink. And that is the dark night of the soul, and that is what makes for a gripping story.
I know my husband loved the book because of the sciency stuff. My daughter, who is a scientist, had a tough time relating to the character, although she said she did finally begin to care about him near the end of the book. I suppose I’ll read the book and see for myself.
Oh, by the way, if there is one thing we learned from The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, (the book, not the television series), one thing I learned growing up in rural Iowa, it is this– When you must go out into a hellacious blizzard, or into a Martian version of a blizzard, i.e., sandstorm, for crying out loud, tether yourself to something. You do not hike back to your space ship in high winds, through blowing debris, when there is near zero visibility, without a tether. Sorry. Someone has to say it. The minute the crew stepped out of the habitat into that storm I said to my husband, “That’s pretty stupid. Why aren’t they tethered to something? That’s the first rule of blizzard safety in Iowa when walking from the house to the barn.” Right there the movie lost me. Hmmm. Now I’m wondering whether I’ll like the book…
P.S. If you really want to read about the dark night of the soul, read Beck Weathers’ story in My Journey Home: Left for Dead on Everest, or Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer.